By Glenn Dinella
Maybe it goes back to my Italian heritage, but I love to grow and use fresh herbs. With a name like “DiNella,” you know I have spaghetti sauce coursing through my veins!
Not only are herbs a great way to add fresh taste to your cooking, but they also tend to be drought-tolerant and beautiful to look at in the landscape. Most prefer well-drained soil, moderate water, and all the sunshine you can lavish on them.
My western-facing front walkway is a hopscotch pattern of alternating concrete pavers and creeping ‘Elfin’ thyme. It’s a great groundcover, offering form and function.
Having it lead to the front door might be a bit informal for some homeowners, but I like the way it sets a casual tone. My wife often forgets it’s there, and occasionally asks me if we have any thyme in the garden she can use for a recipe. To harvest thyme, snip off some stems, hold the tips with one hand, close the fingers of your other hand around the tip of the stem, and rake backwards toward the base to peel off the tiny leaves.
Oregano lines my back walkway. This tough herb grows there happily despite that it’s under the eaves and almost never receives water. I like to add fresh oregano to my pasta sauce. Come fall I harvest bunches of oregano, dry it, and bottle it up. I haven’t bought oregano at the grocery store in years.
Another of my favorite herbs is rosemary. Once established, rosemary is very drought-tolerant. It comes in different plant forms, from upright to sprawling ground cover. I use it in the landscape as an evergreen, with a light and airy nature, and it marries well with sunny xeriscape plantings. I like to dry and crush stems and add them to olive oil with salt and pepper for dipping bread. I also bottle the dried leaves to use in other recipes. No need to buy rosemary either.
With its lush foliage, basil isn’t quite as drought tolerant as some of the other herbs I’ve mentioned, but it is a must-have for my garden. I plant it next to my tomatoes because they make such a fine couple. Sometimes I grab a small cherry tomato from the vine, pluck a basil leaf, and pop them in my mouth right then and there.
To create a quick Italian appetizer known as bruschetta, place a slice of tomato and a leaf or three of basil on a slice of crusty bread, drizzle it with olive oil, cover it with mozzarella cheese, and bake in the oven until the cheese is bubbly and light brown. Salute!